Leaders from Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India gathered in Ashgabat on December 13 to jointly inaugurate the start to work building a natural gas pipeline linking the four countries.
The $10 billion project, if it is ever completed, could some way to quenching energy thirst in South Asia.
The presidents of Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, the vice president of India and the prime minister of Pakistan traveled out to a spot in the Karakum desert near the city of Mary to attend the ceremonial welding of the first section of pipeline, which they all signed.
“What we see today is not just TAPI, but a super-highway between Central Asia and South Asia,” Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said.
Turkmenistan’s President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov was no less fulsome.
“TAPI is intended to become a new effective step towards the formation of a modern architecture of global energy security — a powerful factor for economic and social stability in the Asian region,” he said at the ceremony.
Berdymukhamedov signed a government decree in November mandating that the pipeline be completed in three years, despite all of the security concerns that have surrounded the project, which has also been marred by uncertainties over funding.
The main investor in construction is Turkmenistan state-owned Turkmengaz, which was picked in August to head up the TAPI Limited consortium.
The pipeline is designed to carry 33 billion cubic meters annually and will stretch more than 1,800 kilometers through the Afghan cities of Herat and Kandahar and end up in Fazilka, on the border of India and Pakistan.
The leading representatives from the four countries on December 13 also buried a memorial capsule and shoveled the first concrete into the foundations of what will become the third development of the vast Galkynysh gas field, which is what will be used to full TAPI.
Galkynysh is second only to the Iran’s South Pars field in dimension and is being developed with assistance from Japanese and Turkish companies. Tokyo is being expected to invest $10 billion into work on the field.
This is all very optimistic, but security remains the greatest stumbling block to the pipeline being completed or functioning efficiently once work is done.
Afghanistan’s government has said previously that it could deploy up to 7,000 troops for protection.
Officials in Pakistan tried to assuage anxieties, however, by pledging to use their influence over the Taliban in Afghanistan to avoid any unpleasantness.
Although it is widely assumed that a trans-Afghan pipeline would be a sitting duck for Taliban attacks, the radical theocratic government that ran Afghanistan before the U.S.-led invasion was in fact a supporter of the route.
If governments in the region are sufficiently deft in combining muscle and persuasion, the pipeline might actually stand a chance.